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Global warming could be null and void.

The debate largely may be drawn along political lines, but the human role in climate change remains one of the most controversial questions in 21st century science.

Writing in WIREs Climate Change, Kevin Trenberth, from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colo., argues that the evidence for anthropogenic climate change is so clear that the burden of proof should lie with research that seeks to disprove the human role.

In response to Trenberth's contention, a second review, by Judith Curry, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, focuses on the concept of a "null hypothesis," the default position taken when research is carded out. Currently, the null hypothesis for climate change attribution research is that humans have no influence.

"Humans are changing our climate. There is no doubt whatsoever," insists Trenberth. "Questions remain as to the extent of our collective contribution, but it is clear that the effects are not small and have emerged from the noise of natural variability. So, why does the science community continue to do attribution studies and assume that humans have no influence as a null hypothesis?

"Scientists must challenge misconceptions in the difference between weather and climate while attribution studies must include a human component," concludes Trenberth. "The question should no longer be is there a human component, but what is it?"

Curry questions this position, and points out that the discussion on the null hypothesis serves to highlight fuzziness surrounding the many hypotheses related to dangerous climate change. "Regarding attribution studies, rather than trying to reject either hypothesis regardless of which is the null, there should be a debate over the significance of anthropogenic warming relative to forced and unforced natural climate variability."

Curry also suggests that the desire to reverse the null hypothesis may have the goal of seeking to marginalize the climate skeptic movement, a vocal group that has challenged the scientific orthodoxy on climate change.

"The proponents of reversing the null hypothesis should be extremely careful what they wish for," concludes Curry. "One consequence may be that the scientific focus, and therefore funding, would also reverse to attempting to disprove dangerous anthropogenic climate change, which has been a position of many skeptics?

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Title Annotation:Climate Change
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Dec 1, 2011
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